A new water monitoring device by WaterSpy aims to provide fast diagnosis of deadly bacteria

The WaterSpy project is developing water quality analysis photonics technology suitable for online, field measurements. WaterSpy technology will be integrated, for validation purposes, into an existing, commercial water quality monitoring platform, in the form of a portable add-on. WaterSpy will be used in the field for the analysis of critical points of water distribution networks. This will be demonstrated in two different demo sites in Italy.

Pervasive and on-line water quality monitoring data is critical for detecting environmental pollution and reacting in the best possible way to avoid human health hazards. However, it’s not easy to gather such data, at least not for all contaminants. Currently, water utilities rely heavily on frequent sampling and laboratory analysis in order to acquire this information. For the situation to be improved, portable and high-performance devices for pervasive water quality monitoring are required. Such devices should expand current limitations in detecting contaminants, transcending today’s paradigms, and bridging different technologies available, allowing on-line monitoring of possible contaminants.

WaterSpy addresses this challenge by developing water quality analysis photonics technology suitable for inline, field measurements. Focus will be placed on monitoring three of the most deadly bacteria strains: Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

The project has just recently reached its mid-point milestone. Important results have already been delivered, while significant technical tasks are currently ongoing. Important results obtained include:

• Three packaged Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCL), developed for the WaterSpy experiments and preliminary device prototype. These are being used for experimentation.

• A preliminary version of the photodetector to be used in the WaterSpy concept. A novel balanced detection amplifier was also designed and developed.

• Antibodies against the targeted bacteria were produced and will be used in the biosensing surface of the WaterSpy device.

• Two different approaches for the WaterSpy ATR and microfluidics configuration have been designed in detail and experiments are taking place for selecting the final one that will be used in the field-validation version of the WaterSpy device.

• A prototype of the ultra-sound-based particle concentration module has been prepared.

• A prototype of the main processing unit of the WaterSpy device was produced and programmed.

• An automated water sample incubator was designed and delivered for experimentation.

Using a combination of light and sound to detect bacteria

WaterSpy relies on a laser configuration, photodetectors and ultrasound particle manipulation. As quoted from its press release, “It works by first gathering small traces of bacteria and then detecting them with a laser.”  

Ultrasound is used to gather the bacteria in the water sample to heighten detection and sensitivity. A measurement technique called attenuated total reflection will be used, enabling a sample to be examined directly in the liquid state. “Beams of infrared (IR) light are sent into a diamond over which the water flows. The IR light then reflects off the internal surface in contact with the water sample, before being collected by a detector as it exits the crystal.”


During the last week of May, the WaterSpy team met in Vienna for the first integrated testing of the various WaterSpy modules. Various tests took place, to examine the compatibility of these modules and prepare towards the next, field-use version of the WaterSpy device. A very interesting and intensive period lies ahead, with multiple technical developments ongoing. Our aim is to deliver the first field-use prototype in six months from now.

WaterSpy is being developed by a multi-disciplinary team, coordinated by CyRIC, Cyprus Research and Innovation Centre Ltd, in the framework of EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme. The project was launched in November 2016 and will run for three years. The project is funded by Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation for 2014-2020. The project is an initiative of the Photonics Public Private Partnership (www.photonics21.org).

Project partners include: CyRIC – Cyprus Research and Innovation Centre (Cyprus), National Research Council (Italy), Alpes Lasers SA (Switzerland), National Technical University of Athens (Greece), Technische Universität Wien (Austria), Friedrich-Alexander-Universitaet Erlangen-Nuernberg (Germany), AUG Signals Hellas (Greece), VIGO System SA (Poland) and IREN SpA (Italy).